What Is Conveyancing And How Does It Work?

Whenever someone buys or sells a property there is legal work that needs to be carried out to transfer the ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer, this cannot be avoided even for cash buyers. What is this process, how much does it cost, exactly what happens and how long does it take? These are all very common questions, so read on and we will try to answer your questions.

Man holding house model.

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is basically the speciality in law that deals with the buying and selling of property. This is not any different from a family solicitor specialising in family law or an employment solicitor specialising in employment law. Conveyancing will be carried out by a conveyancer.

What is a conveyancer?

A conveyancer is a specialist legal professional whose speciality is property law. There are essentially two types of qualified professionals who specialise in property law and these are licenced conveyancers and conveyancing solicitors.

What are Licenced Conveyancers?

A Licenced conveyancer is someone who is trained specifically in conveyancing law and typically will not have any expertise or experience in other legal aspects. Licenced conveyancers are regulated by the Council for Licenced Conveyancers. There are some differences in how Licenced Conveyancers are regulated, for instance:

  • Licenced Conveyancers are allowed to act for both the buyer and the seller which could speed the process up
  • Licenced Conveyancers do not need to disclose payments to referring agencies such as estate agents who suggest that a seller or buyer use a certain conveyancer.

What is a Conveyancing Solicitor?

A conveyancing solicitor is a solicitor who is fully trained and authorised to practice all aspects of the law but who specialises in property law. Conveyancing solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and are required to be member of the law society and this different Regulation puts some restrictions on solicitors that conveyancers don’t have:

  • Solicitors cannot act for both parties at the same time due to conflict-of-interest rules. The solicitor acting on behalf of the buyer can be in the same firm as the one acting for the seller, but they cannot be the same solicitor
  • Solicitors must declare referral payments

Pros and cons of licenced conveyancers and conveyancing solicitors

  • A conveyancer is likely to be cheaper because their training requirements are lower compared to a solicitor
  • A conveyancing solicitor will be better placed to deal with the more complex property transactions due to their broader legal training.
  • Although all solicitors are authorised to carry out conveyancing work, they might not be specialists, so it is important to look for one who has good experience.
  • Licenced conveyancers are likely to be handling many cases at the same time so their focus on any particular transaction might be less leading to potential delays.

We will refer to both legal professionals simply as conveyancers for the remainder of this article, the points being made are equally applicable to both licenced conveyancers and conveyancing solicitors.

How much are conveyancing fees?

Conveyancing fees are essentially broken down into two parts: The time spent by the conveyancer actually working on your transaction and the costs of chargeable disbursements, these are essentially tasks that are carried out by others upon instruction from your conveyancer such as:

  • Anti-money laundering checks, typically these cost around £6 – £20
  • Getting hold of title deeds, typically these cost £6
  • Searches, these can cost between £250 – £450 depending on the searches being carried out
  • Transfer of ownership – This can cost around £135
  • Funds transfer will cost between £25 and £45
  • Property fraud check, typically around £10
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax – This depends on the value of the property being bought and is only chargeable on properties over £125,000 (£300,000 for first time buyers). SDLT is calculated based on the price band of the property, but ranges from 2% to 12% of the property value.

Most conveyancers will have a fixed fee for the conveyancing itself, subject to the transaction being relatively standard. This can be from £500 to £1500 and then you will need to pay the disbursements on top.

A typical sale only service will cost around £1,000 but can be as much as much as £1,700 for more complex sales.

A typical purchase only service will cost around £1,040 but this could rise to over £2,300 depending on the transaction.

A typical sale and purchase will cost just over £2,000 on average but could be as much as £4,000 for more complex transactions.

Whatever you need to pay, your conveyancer is required to clearly itemise the costs upfront so you are fully aware of all the costs and potential costs.

When do you pay conveyancing fees?

This really depends on the conveyancing firm, some might want a deposit upfront to pay for disbursements, some will ask for payment for any disbursements as they happen and some (rarely) will be happy to only ask for payment at the end of the process. In pretty much all cases, though, the cost for the conveyancer’s time will only be charged at the end of the process. The conveyancer will draw together a final bill, the monies for which will be taken before the transaction is allowed to complete.

How long does conveyancing take?

This is very dependent on the chain and the complexity of the transaction, but typical times are between 8-12 weeks. The reason it takes so long is that every step needs to be taken in the right order and if, for example, there are adverse results from the searches or questions around the property, this can add time to the process. The length of the chain also has an effect on the length of the transaction. We would recommend that you allow for around 12 weeks to be safe.

What is the conveyancing process?

The process is slightly different if you are buying or selling and your conveyancer will walk you through the process fully.

Conveyancing process for purchases:

Once you have found a property, put in an offer and had it accepted the conveyancing process starts:

  • instruct your conveyancer and give them your details for Identify checks. This is part of the anti-money laundering rules that all conveyancers must follow. You must then give your conveyancer’s details to the estate agent who will send a memorandum of sale to them. This details the property, the agreed price, the sellers’ details and also the details of their conveyancers.
  • Provide details of your mortgage lender and the mortgage offer to your conveyancer.
  • Your conveyancer will request the contract pack from the seller’s conveyancer.
  • Your conveyancer will carry out all the required property searches (see below for more details).
  • Your conveyancer will scrutinise the contract pack and go back to the seller’s conveyancer with any queries that they or you might have.
  • Once this is complete you will receive a draft copy of the contract and the transfer deed. This is the legal document which transfers to ownership of the property from the seller to you. You will need to sign this in the presence of an independent witness aged 18 or over.
  • Once you have your mortgage offer the lender will send a copy of the offer to your conveyancer. Your conveyancer will send a copy of this to you and a mortgage deed for you to sign. The mortgage deed is a legal document giving your lender a financial interest in your home. You will need to sign this in the presence of an independent witness aged 18 or over.
  • Once all the deeds have been signed, the contract has been signed, all searches are back and any queries and issues resolved, it is time to exchange contracts. At this point the deposit will need to be paid. Once contracts have been exchanged, you are legally obliged to finish the transaction or forfeit your deposit.
  • Your conveyancer will then request the funds from your lender in readiness for completion
  • At completion all the financials are sorted, your lender will transfer the required money, the seller is paid, the stamp duty is paid and you conveyancer will require their bill to be settled. Once all the monies have exchanged, the keys to your new home will be released.
  • The final step is for your conveyancer to inform the land registry that you are the new owner and that your lender has a financial interest in your property.

What are searches in conveyancing?

Searches are an important part of the purchase process as they give some very important information on the property you wish to purchase. The main searches are:

  • Local authority search – these are split into the LLC1 and CON29 parts. The LLC1 gives information on whether the property is listed, is in a conservation area, is in a smoke control area or needs an improvement or renovation grant. The CON29 gives details on proposals for new roads or traffic schemes, whether the land is contaminated, any planning decisions which could affect the property, any building regulations and whether the property is in a Radon affected area.
  • Water, drainage and Property search. This search gives information on the sewers pipes and drains either running through the property or servicing the property and who is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep.
  • Environmental search. This search will look for any issues around landslips, flooding potential, subsidence and contamination of the soil due to historic landfill and waste sites.

There are other searches that might be carried out, however. These will typically be at a further charge and depend on the location of the property. Such extra searches include:

  • Commons registration might be needed if the property borders common land or a village green.
  • Mining search if the property is in a previously mined area meaning it could be on unstable ground.
  • Land charges might be needed if the property is unregistered and will highlight any bankruptcy proceedings or any restrictions on the use of the land.
  • Chancel repair liability checks to see if you would be liable to contribute towards the costs of the repair of the local church.

Conveyancing for sellers

Once you have had an offer and have accepted it, you will also need to instruct a conveyancer who will then handle the legal aspects of the sale for you.

  • The first stage will be that the conveyancer will ask you to fill out all the relevant forms/questionnaires:
    • the (TA 6) form is a general questionnaire and includes information on boundaries, disputes and complaints (like reported noisy neighbour complaints or boundary disputes), known proposed developments (like motorways or railways), building works, council tax, utilities, sewerage, contact details.
    • If you do not own the freehold, you should give more information on either the leasehold (TA 7) or the commonhold (TA9).
    • The (TA 10) provides details of which fittings and fixtures you would like to include with the property.
    • The (TA 13) is more technical, but also includes finalisation details including arrangements to hand over the keys, how and where you will complete, and ensuring that the house is free of all mortgages and liability claims.
  • The conveyancer will also check the title deeds to ensure that you are the legal owner of the property.
  • You will need to give your conveyancer your mortgage provider’s details if you have an outstanding mortgage on your property.
  • Once the forms have been sorted and the conveyancer is comfortable that you are the legal owner, they will draft the contract which you will need to sign in the presence of an independent witness who is over 18.
  • There might be some questions from the buyer’s conveyancer and you should answer these as quickly, fully and honestly as you can.
  • Once all the questions have been answered you will exchange contracts, at which point you are legally obliged to complete the sale.
  • The next stage is completion when all the finances are settled, including your mortgage as required. You will need to vacate the premises by the time the transaction has completed so the new owner can move straight in.
  • Your conveyancer will then register the new ownership of the property with the land registry.

As you can see, buying and selling a home is a very involved process. You cannot buy or sell a property without going through the correct legal process and this is where the conveyancer comes in. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the process and know what to expect.

Selling a property? Take a look at our Step by Step guide to selling a property Want to buy a property instead? Our Step by step guide to buying a property is made just for you.